When parents of children seek an order for visitation in the California family court, the court can also include visits with the extended family of the child or children that includes grandparents or step-parents. This is often the case when the grandparent or step-parent has an established, positive relationship and is actively involved in the child’s life.
Under California law, a grandparent can ask the court for reasonable visitation with a grandchild. This “grandparent visitation” statute gives grandparents the right to get a court order to see and interact with their grandchildren. In this scenario, the family court will seriously consider the request for visitation and whether this will continue to be beneficial for the child. The visitation orders will specify the date, time and circumstances under which visitation must occur.
Either parent can request that these visits be included in the visitation order. These requests are often included if the other parent wants to restrict the visitation by a grandparent or step-parent. Should this occur, the party filing a petition for visitation should speak with a family law attorney experienced in grandparent visitation rights to get specific rights and responsibilities regarding visitation.
It is important to understand that although a grandparent can file a petition for visitation, the process is different from that of the birth parents. In most cases, getting legal advice is recommended to increase the chances of having the petition for visitation approved.
Petition for Visitation by Grandparents or Step-parents
Typically, a grandparent or step-parent seeking visitation rights may file a petition for custody with the court. In many cases, a petition for visitation is filed when:
- The child’s parents are deceased.
- Parents give up custody rights.
- The child’s parents have been deemed unfit to retain custody.
If for whatever reason a dispute over visitation arises, a grandparent or step-parent can file a petition to receive visitation with the child or children. They can do this during the custody proceeding by the parents or they can file a petition in the future at any time. The petition can be filed whether one or both parents are deceased. Should the surviving “fit” parent contest the visitation, the grandparent would need to convince the court with clear evidence that it would be detrimental to the child or children if they are denied visitation.
The petition for visitation by a step-parent is similar to that of a grandparent’s request. Family courts tend to respect the wishes of “fit” birth parents. In all child custody cases, courts attempt to determine what visitation arrangement is best for the child.
With few exceptions, the parent has the right of visitation over a grandparent or step-parent. At no time can any order granting visitation, for either a grandparent or step-parent, interfere with a visitation schedule with either birth parent. To understand the process and have reasonable expectations a grandparent or step-parent should discuss their specific case with a divorce attorney experienced in handling visitation petitions.